plastic fantastic: you look fabulous!

Carefully structured violence packaged and passed off as spontaneous beauty, reproductions of the divine mean as a reflection of that inner you. Everyone is a Venus. What is the alternative? The aesthetic condemnation of the ugly as a symptomatic expression of suffering. Well, there is significant pressure to remain competitive on the sex market, mainly for women, but the issue defies black and white answers. In a pop culture world mediated by images, we are our proper image, and a visual and structural photo-shopping of our bodies in the real sense means we have seized control of the apparatus of mechanical reproduction. Something of a nightmare Walter Benjamin could not have foreseen. Emancipatory and democratic in one sense, and indicative of bourgeois conservatism and violence as well.

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Plastic surgery is universal. homogeneity. globalization. standardization on which to expound the platform of the rebel and the individual. Its a bit insidious, but good looks is an industry. A commodity.  Surgery of  faces and bodies is but a symptom of a more radical process or procedure which is the concept of otherness and destiny. As a society, we seem  trapped in a two-dimensional visual culture that extolls and adores bodies that look good on-screen.It really is a’plastic ideological complex,with an undercurrent of fascism and the herd mentality. There is a relationship to a personal and national self-image, one smoother and less wrinkly that is probably not unhealthy, and it appears part of persistent movement that is  a fixture for the foreseeable future.

Rembrandt. Read More:

Cosmetic surgery is also part of the paradox of Western liberalism and its own mechanisms for tolerating intolerance.  It preaches tolerance between cultures, a universalism,  while being blatantly obvious that true tolerance is only possible only in the individualist Western culture, implying a hierarchy of values equated into visual cues; transgressive differences must be exorcized at  through an identification with the body,  an individual appropriation of the body, of  desire, of  look, of  image: In other words cosmetic surgery. As Baudrillard has said,  if the individual’s  body is not  a space of otherness , a dual relationship, but is rather a locus of identification, we then must reconcile to it, we must repair it, perfect it, make it an ideal object. His conclusion is that everyonee uses their body like man uses woman in the projective mode of identification. The body is invested as a fetish, and is used as a fetish in an attempt at identifying oneself. He also asserts that the body becomes the object of an autistic cult and of a quasi-incestuous manipulation:  the likeness or resemblance of the body with its model which then becomes a source of eroticism and of “white” -fake, virgin, – self-seduction to the extent that this likeness virtually excludes the Other and is the best way to exclude a seduction which would emerge from somewhere else.

John Singer Sargent. Read More:

Andi Zeisler: It seems like people have started talking about having cosmetic surgery the way they used to talk about having children as an abstract inevitable, something that will occur at some unspecified time in the future. As a society, we’ve grown inured to the concept of cosmetic surgery and nonplussed by its presence in our daily lives. It’s played for laughs in culture both high (a New Yorker cartoon) and low (your average sitcom). It’s standard fodder for daytime talk shows; free weeklies and ads on public transportation hawk it aggressively; and the entertainment glossies make sure we know exactly what Demi Moore’s breasts are up to. Its terms have invaded the vernacular and we’re no more surprised to see a magazine with the cover line “Your Kitchen Needs a Face-Lift!” than we are to hear that Cher had another rib or three removed….

…And we’re not just hearing about other people’s operations; where cosmetic surgery was once mainly the province of wealthy socialites, aging movie stars, and strippers, it’s now an equal-opportunity proposition, complete with tv commercials and low-cost financing plans hawked on the World Wide Web. The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons reports that, over the past five years, the rate of breast augmentation surgeries has more than tripled; liposuctions have grown by 200 percent; and liposuctions performed on men have tripled. Cosmetic surgeries in general have increased by more than half since 1992. In our society, it’s no longer nature that determines who’ll be the fittest…it’s the surgeons, and the people with the money to pay their astronomical bills.

Warhol. Before and After. 1961.---There are, of course, contemporary political movements that aim to debunk this connection: feminists, anti-racists, and disability rights activists, for example, have all convincingly argued that bodies marked by sex, race, or physical impairment do not indicate an inferior intellectual ability or moral character.3 Yet despite the rationality of the age, we seem more than ever to act as if (even though we may not believe that) one’s outer form reflects one’s virtues: the ever more minutely detailed visual objectification of (especially female) bodies, the extraordinary popularity of diet and exercise regimens, the plethora of beauty products, and, finally, the explosive growth of cosmetic surgery, all indicate that how we look has become more, not less, important to how we understand ourselves. Read More: image:

There’s plenty that’s straight-up disturbing about this kind of cosmetic Darwinism. There’s the classism and racism inherent in the body-reshaping industry, for one, and the eugenic implications of a world full of people with bodies and faces that reflect a fashion-model ideal. Surgery and the fashion/beauty industries have informed each other from the start, and this union, along with long-standing Hollywood associations, has plenty to do with why certain segments of culture are still prone to deriding cosmetic surgery as vain, shallow, and devoid of personal meaning, especially when compared to its hipper body-modification counterparts of tattooing and piercing. When a grown woman undergoes twenty-plus operations to transform herself into a giant Barbie doll and as  frequent talk-show guest Cindy Jackson did or compares cosmetic surgery to tuning up the car and as Loni Anderson has…is it any wonder?

Lucas Cranach the Elder. ---Crucially for my purposes, disciplinary power is itself invisible yet renders its subjects hyper-visible in order to tighten its grip: “it is the fact of being constantly seen, of being able always to be seen, that maintains the disciplined individual in his subjection”...The display of power, Foucault argues, thus moves from overt expression of potency (in which the apparatus of power must be made visible) to the ceremonial presentation of subjects, in which power is only a gaze.For example, in the visual economy of cosmetic surgery, we can watch the physician’s examinations of prospective patients on TV. As the surgeon draws whorls and lines on his patient’s skin in thick black marker, to show where he will cut into her flesh later in the op

ing room, she is left in plastic cap and surgical gown as a visible (and slightly ridiculous) object of his analysis of her body’s flaws. His scalpels and instruments and his framed diplomas are also important to his power, but it is through the body of the patient that he literally renders his disciplinary gaze visible. Read More: image:

The evolution of cosmetic surgery into pop culture touchstone ensures that there’s now less stigma attached, but it also means that we’re seeing a lot more media coverage of it that pushes a lighthearted, even whimsical agenda. A recent issue of Vogue features “Calf Masters,” a piece that asks, “Are you ready for spring’s capri pants and pleated schoolgirl skirts? Are your legs?” and then swings right into a perky evaluation of surgical options (including calf implants and inner-knee liposuction) for optimum capri-pant effect. Not that this kind of thing is unprecedented; most women’s magazines start running their get-ready-for-summer exercise features around March, but those generally stop short of suggesting going under the knife in order to make the most of one’s bikini. The ease with which Vogue proposes a spendy operation for the sake of a fleeting trend points to the classism implicit in cosmetic Darwinism, but also embodies a shift in the m.o. of the cosmetic surgery shill. Glossy magazines, despite their overstock of wafer-thin models, have generally shouldered the mantle of responsibility when it comes to surgery, urging their readers to think carefully and at length about what is a big, expensive, and possibly dangerous undertaking. An article like “Calf Masters,” in repositioning surgery as breezy and blatantly fashion-powered, suggests that corners of the media are ready to unload the responsibility part and focus on the gee-whiz thrill of surgical advances.

Edward Kienholz. The Illegal Operation.---Paradigmatically resonant contemporary defenses of cosmetic surgery thus draw attention to the psychological suffering caused by a sense of mismatch between the inner character and the outer form. Being someone who is a good person—a construction especially important perhaps to the contemporary American psyche—must be represented by a concomitantly attractive body. Instead of working only to conform to norms of beauty, we are now told, cosmetic surgery is a way of working on the self that enables greater authenticity, helps people to overcome past trauma, improves relationships, and sows the seeds of a better character. Understanding how normalization produces its subjects in scripted popular representations will help feminists theorize the doubled oppressive and enabling functions of cosmetic surgery for its now more typical non-celebrity recipients, at the same time as we work to understand why cosmetic surgery makes promises about permanent and conclusively satisfying self-transformation that cannot be kept.---Read More: Image:

The main evidence of this, however, isn’t that fewer people are choosing surgery, but that more people are having procedures, or what Living Fit refers to as “lunch-hour surgery: noninvasive or minimally invasive wrinkle-fighting procedures like laser skin resurfacing; Retin-A treatment; chemical peels; and Botox, collagen, Fibril and fat injections.” The intent seems to be to draw a line in the sand over what is and isn’t cosmetic surgery, and the piece congratulates itself heartily for doing so, with a neat conclusion that the alleged boom is “really more of a boomlet.”

Who are they kidding? The distinction between boom and boomlet isn’t the crucial point. It’s as though Living Fit thinks the fact that some folks are choosing to temporarily paralyze their faces with botulism toxin rather than go full-on with the face-lift is somehow indicative of a healthy, propaganda-free, anti-surgery attitude. But the only thing it’s indicative of is that vanity is still a huge issue when it comes to how people conceptualize/rationalize their body modification (e.g., “If it doesn’t involve actual cutting, maybe it’s ok”). Increasingly sophisticated technology has made cosmetic surgery less taxing, less time-consuming, and less embarrassing for the people who choose it, but in the process it’s fueling the development of some bizarre moral hierarchy of cosmetic procedures.

---Western film and literature is rife with tales (mostly told by white men) of fathers and husbands with narcissistic rationales for physically "perfecting" their women. Pygmalion and Galatea, transcribed in Ovid's classic poem "The Metamorphoses," recounts a sculptor and king of Cyprus who creates his own aesthetically superior version of the female sex, then falls in love with his ivory statue named "Galatea." The statue comes to life and the king marries his own creation--- Read More:

For feminists, this approach to cosmetic surgery offers a special stumbling block. Given that the bulk of cosmetic Darwinism involves making women feel insecure and competitive, there would seem to be a responsibility to denounce an article like “Calf Masters,” and surgery itself, as about as empowering and forward-thinking as corsets and footbinding. Yet cheery testimony of how the face-lift or the breast implants were “for me,” and, by extension, for feminist self-realization, permeates many a first-person chronicle of surgery. Furthermore, feminism these days is about defining our own terms, being able to adapt former definitions and shift them around to suit us. This is why we not only no longer have to shun lipstick, but can actually turn the act of wearing it into a feminist statement (although, to the casual observer, the power and righteousness of this statement might go unnoticed and we might simply appear to be women in lipstick). And when some uninformed fool tries to protest that “real” feminists don’t shave their legs or stand drooling at the LancÙme counter, we’re damn skippy going to stand up and loudly defend our right to be as girly as we please. So why are we so defensive when it comes to cosmetic surgery?

Rogier Van der Weyden----Many people who complain about the size or shape of their noses show signs of mental illness, a new study suggests. About one in three people seeking rhinoplasty — commonly called a nose job — have signs of body dysmorphic disorder, a mental health condition in which a person has an unnatural preoccupation with slight or imagined defects in appearance. The findings are based on a study of 266 patients evaluated by plastic surgeons in Belgium over a 16-month period. The patients made appointments to discuss a rhinoplasty procedure and were given a questionnaire to assess their symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. Among those seeking the procedure for medical reasons — to correct a breathing problem, for example — only 2 percent of patients exhibited symptoms of the disorder. But among patients seeking to change their noses for cosmetic reasons, 43 percent showed signs of the disorder, expressing an unreasonable preoccupation and distress about their bodies despite having noses that were relatively normal. Over all, 33 percent of patients in the study showed symptoms of the disorder.---Read More:

A partial explanation is that it is, after all, surgery. Taking three minutes to apply lipstick or eye shadow is a hell of a lot different from allowing a total stranger to cut open and rearrange the skin over your face, to suck a pint of fat from your body through a tube, to insinuate bags full of salt water into your chest. The attendant risks of surgery, the pain, the time it takes to recover, and the secrecy and guilt that often accompany the undertaking all add up.

But there’s more. Elizabeth Haiken, author of Venus Envy: A History of Cosmetic Surgery, argues that cosmetic surgery has from the start been framed as part and parcel of the American entitlement to constant self-improvement. But she also points out that, when it comes to current attitudes about surgery, the practice of dismissing the cultural context and rationalizing it as individual betterment “flattens the terrain of power relations.” In other words, we may be helping ourselves, but we’re not helping ourselves. We can talk about doing it for us until our high-end lipstick flakes off, but we should also keep in mind that we probably wouldn’t even be thinking about what life would be like with a new nose or perkier breasts or shapelier inner thighs if it weren’t for a long-standing cultural ideal that rewards those who adhere to it…with power that often doesn’t speak its name but is instantly recognizable to those who don’t have it.

Judith Leyster.---These shows exploit fantasy narratives of radical transformation, and make clever use of normalization’s language of identity, within which an outer self must be brought into line with an inner truth. An authentic personality of great moral beauty must be brought out of the body that fails adequately to reflect it. Thus, in this context, cosmetic surgery is less about becoming beautiful, and more about becoming oneself, including by developing the capacities that were previously denied or perceived as too daunting.---Read More: image:

So even if nobody’s strapping women to gurneys and rolling them down halls lined with scalpel-wielding men in green, cosmetic Darwinism is definitely greasing the wheels. The terrain of power relations, to cop Haiken’s phrase, is only getting flatter with time. Whether we feel like we need to look a certain way to make up for cultural power that we don’t have, or whether looks are still a major means by which we achieve power or whether we refuse to give credence to either of these ideas…what we’re born with is still going to be weighed against what surgery can give us: weighed by glossy magazines, by television shows, by friends, by strangers. Individual self-actualization isn’t going to extricate itself from societal signals. Earnest dispatches from the likes of 90210 may suggest a minor, if not exactly emphatic, backlash against surgery as we’ve conceived it in the past, but they can’t compete with the sexy media spectacle of safe and groovy space-age technology and a wrinkle-free future. So in spite of a queasy feeling and a temptation to dismiss the whole idea of cosmetic surgery as an anti-woman plot and anyone who “chooses” it as a sucker, we must admit that in a complicated time, our thinking has to evolve, even if our calves, chests, and cheekbones don’t. Read More:


One of the things that surprised me is how out of control the cosmetic surgeons themselves felt in all this. I felt a lot of sympathy for the cosmetic surgeons, even when they were telling me that I needed a facelift. Cosmetic surgeons are primarily men, well over 90 percent. They’d gone to medical school and they came out with huge amounts of debt themselves, often well over $200,000. They meant to be reconstructive surgeons, they meant to fix people after horrific accidents or cancer, and they started doing some boob jobs on the side and it started to eat up more and more of their practice because it was so lucrative. They want to send their kids to nice schools, they have mortgages, they have family, and you could see that they felt a little bit helpless as well. It wasn’t what they meant to do.

---Gainsborough.---And like 85 percent of all cosmetic surgery patients, the people I spoke to were paying for their procedures with debt, often specialized medical debt available through physicians' offices with interest rates as high as 30 percent. Americans already put about $45 billion in medical procedures on our credit cards, and that amount is expected to triple by 2015. And it isn't vanity or the delusion that they will become extraordinarily beautiful that pushes ordinary Americans to take on debt and undergo major surgery. It is insecurity - insecurity in the job market and insecurity in the love market. As the vast majority of Americans became worse off financially, they also became less secure in their relationships. And Americans are now almost as likely to be unmarried than married. Read More:

They seemed just as much products of the system as the middle-aged women going in for a facelift or boob job. They were hoping for a better future. Of course, they create the desire — they advertise, people come into their office and they tell them what they need — but I think that if they hadn’t graduated from school with so much debt, most of them would be selling cosmetic procedures a lot less than they are.Read More:

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